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AWU says Shearing Contractors Assoc email proves Ag Visa a threat to regional jobs,

November 8, 2021

A recent email from an employer group obtained by the Australian Workers’ Union confirms the union’s fears that the Federal Government’s new Ag Visa scheme will flood regional Australia with poorly paid foreign workers at the expense of local jobs, especially among young women.

Dan Walton, AWU National Secretary, says the email is proof that the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, in cahoots with the National Farmers Federation, is basically saying: “Let’s get in on the chance for cheap labour.”

The Ag Visa scheme, hastily announced in the wake of the new Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement signed at the G7, targets vulnerable workers from South East Asia.

In the email to its members, the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia (SCAA) says it envisages members “accessing some of the 700 ‘Non-skilled’ workers from an ASEAN country (most likely Indonesia but that is to be confirmed) who will arrive over summer.”

“The workers will be paid Shed Hand Award wages (not the higher rates),” it says. “This is not the only opportunity to engage overseas workers, just the first opportunity. Once the system is established, it’s likely you can engage the workers directly and therefore at a lower cost.”

Mr Walton says that what the AWU has feared – that the Ag Visa will simply be used as a way for unscrupulous employers to cut wages and conditions – is now happening.

“This email is just like an order form: How many cheap workers do you want? Put in your request now so you can pay them a much lower rate.”

Stef Mackey, a roustabout (shed hand) working in a contracting team near Young, NSW, says more than 80 per cent of the nation’s roustabouts are young women.

“These Ag Visas will not only take jobs from young Australians in regional towns with high unemployment, they will also target young women and deny them a foot in the door of the shearing industry,” she says.

“And every single shearer on our team started out rousting, so if they don’t get that opportunity because it’s no longer there, we’ll soon run out of shearers.”

Mr Walton says he cannot see how the Federal Government, NFF and SCAA can justify claims of a shearing-industry labour shortage.

“What shortage? We have had two years of pandemic, wool prices are up, total wool production is up and the flock was shorn, even though they said it couldn’t possibly be done without overseas workers,” he says.

The AWU is urgently calling on the Government to rethink this ill-thought and dangerous Ag Visa. You can join the campaign and send a message to your local National MP today. 

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